A publication of Sacred Heart University
The Grace to Misunderstand Less
Babel, Pentecost and LGBTQ+ Persons

Rebuilding Amidst Falling Debris

Sometimes, insight into a pressing problem comes from unexpected places. I watched more television than usual during pandemic quarantine in my retirement facility. I learned much from home improvement shows relevant to rebuilding the Church, both the physical space and the spiritual reality of the People of God. I conclude that the Church is not a “fixer upper” in need of simple cosmetic improvements but a major construction project.

These programs demonstrate both possibilities and perils in construction providing lessons for rebuilding the post-pandemic global Church.

Programs describing the restoration of old homes with “good bones” in welcoming neighborhoods have a commitment to preserve family history and architectural beauty while updating modern conveniences. These projects often uncover major structural surprises such as mold growing in dark and damp places spreading disease by invisible spores, rot from termite infestation and major foundation issues.

There are profoundly different objectives. There are the wealthy who want multi-million-dollar luxury estates with open concept design, gourmet kitchens, en suite bathrooms for all and a media room. Many demand breath-taking views preferably in a gated community to ensure privacy and the “right kind of neighbors.” Others, who desire to simplify and focus on essentials in life, are building tiny houses. All these programs show that a clear vision of the goal of rebuilding is essential before you can begin.

There were also news stories of families trying desperately to patch a leaky roof and shutter windows during a hurricane. Rebuilding after total destruction from hurricanes and tornadoes presents the opportunity to build a totally new edifice. Attempting construction for a weakened and rotting edifice that is still showering down life-threatening debris presents almost insurmountable challenges.

Many trying “do it yourself” renovations and repairs learned tragic lessons about the importance of clear and realistic goals, expertise and appropriate resources and tools. I learned that a clear vision, an architectural blueprint that brings the vision to life and practical skills are necessary for successful construction.

History reveals the move from original worship around the table in house churches to the cathedrals and basilicas after forced conversion to Christianity in the West. The numbers of worshipers increased because of Christianity’s cultural and political integration so large imperial public buildings were used for worship. Consistent with the theology of the time, there was a clear delineation of priestly spaces and places for lay observers. A variety of styles throughout history, from Byzantine and Romanesque to Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, reflected beliefs of the time, materials at hand and culture.

The Vatican II vision of the Church as People of God and Body of Christ began a restoration of early Church ecclesiology and liturgical experiences. It stated, “The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to the full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations,” (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 1963 par 31).

Pope Francis retrieves this vision in his June 2022 letter on liturgical formation Desiderio desideravi. It calls for humility and deep conversion grounded, not in proscribed actions, but in what Christ has done and is doing for us in the Paschal Mystery. He says, “Let us always remember that it is the Church, the Body of Christ, that is the celebrating subject and not just the priest,” (36).

He quotes Jesus, “I have earnestly desired to eat the Passover with you before I suffer,” (Luke 22:15) and emphasizes the communal nature of the Eucharist. He repeatedly refers to “bread broken and shared” by friends of Jesus. Worship spaces should foster both a sense of community and a sense of transcendence.

Pope Francis’ synodal way provides us the radical image of a tent. We are challenged to “enlarge the space of your tent” and construct it for welcoming and inclusion, especially of the poor and marginalized.

Rebuilding the Church today is a hazardous task. We live in a post-Christendom, secular socio-political reality where the Church is not respected.

There is a crippling polarization regarding the goals of rebuilding between those desiring a Church of wealth and power and a Church of the poor. Our resources are limited because of departures from practice of the faith over past century, losses from pandemic shutdown and disaffection of the young. Our strength has been wounded by ongoing clergy sexual abuse as revealed in the Cardinal McCarrick saga and reports from Philadelphia to France and by colonialism and racism.

 We need the “hard hat” of trust in God to withstand the falling debris.

Sister Nuala Kenny, emerita professor at Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S., is a pediatrician and physician ethicist.


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